Earlier on, I thought 2017 was all going to be about time travels in the land of K-drama. The year is opened with Tomorrow with You (내일 그대와), then followed by Tunnel (터널), Chicago Typewriter (시카고 타자기), The Best Hit (최고의 한방), My Only Love Song (마이 온리 러브송), Reunited Worlds (다시 만난 세계), Deserving of the Name (명불허전) and Go Back Couple (고백부부), just to name a few.
But halfway to the end of the year, 2017 turned out to be about upholding justice and deconstructing and reconstructing traditional and conservative values. From feminism, gender equality to social justice, many 2017 dramas are offering alternative perspectives to the rather demanding and exhausting widely accepted values. This probably can be seen as a means of escapism from the dreadful reality of Hell Joseon. Strongest Deliveryman in particular talks about escaping this heartbreaking living conditions.
Quoting from Korea Exposé, ”To the South Korean state demanding life, denizens of Hell Joseon answer: “The best thing for a South Korean is never to be born; the second best is to die as soon as possible. For the young South Koreans who have grown to detest their nation, the Republic of Korea — Daehan Min’guk — already ceased to exist some time ago. They now call this land Daehan Mangguk: the Failed State of Korea.”
As alternatives to the cliché love story between a chaebol and a poor girl, this year, K-drama offers love stories between the mediocre in Fight For My Way (쌈, 마이웨이) and the beautiful proletarian love in Just Between Lovers (그냥 사랑하는 사이). In the ultra-competitive dystopian “survival of the fittest” job market and education system where everything wrong about free market (crony) capitalism is amplified to its logical extreme, watching the lives of the working class commoners feels like a relief breath from the suffocating always-on-the-run life.
Age Of Youth 2 (청춘시대 2), Temperature of Love (사랑의 온도) and Because This Is My First Life (이번 생은 처음이라) argue the gender stereotypes and reconstruct conservative family and relationship values. Age Of Youth 2 even brought up issues still considered taboo in South Korea.
I also find a pleasant progress in many of this year’s romantic themed dramas, which is consent. More and more writers seem to emphasise the importance of consent and mutual agreement as K-dramas, especially in the romantic themed ones, are so used to patriarchy, and even worse, misogyny. Man grabbing woman’s hand and drags her around, man forcefully kiss woman where she eventually gives up and falls into his charm after a short resistance are some of the common scenes seen in K-dramas. Romanticising dating violence unfortunately is (unconsciously) widely accepted, that even The Korean Communications Standards Commission (KCSC) ruled out one very problematic scene in Our Gab Soon as portraying dating violence. The scene looks like a rape attempt. Misogynist.
Temperature of Love (사랑의 온도), Because This Is My First Life (이번 생은 처음이라) and again, Just Between Lovers (그냥 사랑하는 사이) came like a fresh breeze, the answers to misogynist dramas, where consent does matter, and men and women are not an entirely different breed, and women have the initiatives and make the first moves. Without belittling the effort, the offered ideas may look slightly basic or elementary, but it also needs to come into consideration that many things are taken in an extreme level in South Korea, these also include patriarchy and gender biases, and not to be left out, superficiality.
2017 also sees K-drama writers exploring new themes, like sci-fi in Circle, said to be the first in K-drama, followed by Duel; a common theme in movies, but rather rarely seen in K-drama and a prison life in Wise Prison Life / Prison Playbook (which is introduced as “Black is the New Orange” spin-off in Netflix).
If last year tvN and JTBC’s dramas dominated the top list, this year tvN’s sister station, OCN shoots to prominence with its signature crime dramas. OCN even pulled off a hat-trick with Tunnel, Duel and Save Me.
No drama really stands out this year, which makes it more difficult in compiling the list. Having said that, there are so many good, even great, dramas with varied themes that are really worth to watch. So, here are the top 10/11 of 44 dramas I managed to watch in 2017.